Thursday, October 28, 2010

Double Take: Tuscan Pork Chops

Most of the pork recipes from USL have been very good so when Mel asked me to pick a set of 9 or 10 recipes to round out the end of the year, I chose a couple of pork ones. For some indeterminable reason, I had trouble getting myself to make this one though. I got the extra ingredients and then something would always come up to prevent it being made. I finally forced myself to make it before I went out of town for a conference.

Tuscan Pork Chops ( adapted from the All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook)


1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
1  teaspoon  salt
3/4  teaspoon  seasoned pepper
4  (1-inch-thick) boneless pork chops
1  tablespoon  olive oil
3  to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1/3  cup  balsamic vinegar
1/3  cup  chicken broth
1/2 - 1 can of diced tomatoes or 3  plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
2  tablespoons  capers

How To:

Be sure to prepare all ingredients as listed above before starting or you may not have them ready in time when they are needed.

Combine first 3 ingredients in a shallow dish; dredge pork chops in flour mixture.

Cook pork chops in hot oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove chops from skillet.

Add garlic to skillet, and sauté 1 minute. Add vinegar and broth, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet; stir in tomatoes and capers.

Return pork chops to skillet; bring sauce to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 4 to 5 minutes or until pork is done. Serve pork chops with tomato mixture.

Tuscan Pork Chops with Golden Mac and Cheese and Steamed Green Beans

My reaction:

While cooking the dish, I felt confused by the order of preparation. It made no sense to me to cook the pork without seasoning it, set it aside, and then add the seasoning to it for a few minutes. It makes much more sense to me to prep the seasonings, marinate the pork in them for 30 minutes, then cook the pork with the seasonings. I followed the recipe though. To me, it tasted like pork with tomatoes on top. Nothing more. This really didn't appeal to me. If I made it again (which would require considerable arm twisting...possibly brute force), I'd prep the seasonings and marinate before cooking the pork. I'd rate this at disappointing as it is. The macaronis were still pretty good though. I'm glad I repeated them!

Head over to Mel's blog to see what she and Bender thought.

Daring Baker's: Doughnuts!

My immediate reaction to this month's challenge included wide eyes, a broad smile, and a major effort not to jump up and down with excitement. (Confession: The suppression of the jumping may not have been 100% effective.) Homemade doughnuts have been on my baking "to do" list for a few months now so I was excited to get the Daring Bakers push to move doughnuts to the "do it this month" list..even though I knew October would be a ridiculously hectic month for me.

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann, and Epicurious.

As I scanned the recipes, I was initially overambitious. I seriously wanted to make yeast filled with multiple items and pumpkin cake and blueberry cake. Did I meantion I was VERY excited? Right. Since October has been busy for me, I had to force myself to pick one type at least so I chose yeast. What can I say? I love Krispy Kreme. I plan to make more later but for this month, one batch was I could handle. That did not mean it would be one varient though.

Chocolate glazed doughnut with sweetened whipped cream case you're was great!

Equipment Needed

For Frying: large deep pot and thermometer
                 Deep fryer with temperature control

metal tongs (for lifting, rolling, coating, etc. ...general handling of doughnuts)

cookie sheets (At least 2 for letting the doughnuts rise)

cups/cutters for preparing shapes of the doughnuts (I used one large cup to cut out the outer doughnut circle and some small fall cutters (Michael's, $4 for a pack of 6) in the shapes of acorns, pumpkins, apples and leaves for minor holes)

optional: space heater to increase kitchen temperature for dough rising

How To:

Time to get started! I'd read the recipe and watched the youtube videos. I felt ready and based on what I'd seen and read, it should only take 2 hours. I allowed 3 because sometimes the unforseen happens and sometimes pro chefs can magically do things faster than a first time preparation will go. I'm glad I started early. I learned that the projected time assumed a couple pieces of equipment were present that weren't available to me, namely, a stand mixer and willingness to use a large pot and thermometer rather than a smaller capacity deep fryer. I started the dough. The recipe reminded me that the dough would be thinner than most yeast breads. However, it was clear that the dough should be stirred until it stiffened and thickened enough to pull away from the sides of the bowl to make a ball. Let me tell you, there is a HUGE difference between a stand mixer and the arm of a grad student equipped with a wooden spoon. I didn't stop. I stirred quickly but I'm no match for a stand mixer. That factor alone more than doubled the prep time for the batter. I'd buffered an extra hour into my total time but now my time buffer was gone!

The use of a small space heater warmed my rising dough and helped trim the first rising time. The kitchen was so chilly, it would've taken quite a while to rise without the heater. While I waited on the dough to rise, I started selecting which cutters I wanted. I chose the largest cup in the cabinet to cut out the doughnut rounds. Its diameter was approximately 4 inches. When I started looking through the cabinet for a smaller container to punch a hole, I found myself concerned. I'd been convinced that a small cup or even a tropicana to go bottle would work very well to make doughnut holes. All I saw in the cabinet was too big! My mind rolled through my kitchen inventory in search of anything remotely close to the needed size (roughly a 1 inch diameter). I suddenly recalled an alternative that wasn't a circle but was the right tiny fall cookie cutters! the acorn, pumpkin, and leaves would be just the right size...not to mention super cute for fall.

I rolled out the dough and cut out the shapes leaving half the dough without holes to allow options for filling. Alton Brown recommended waiting an hour after each rolling of the dough before cutting out the next set of doughnuts. He claimed the 1st set would rise better and that this helped the second set to have enhanced lightness. Since I was short on time, I kept rolling and cutting. I was very gentle with the rolling to try to not overwork the dough. Success! I found my later cut outs were lighter than the first and I was actually most pleased with them. Using my space heater, my rising time moved along quickly.

Acorn cut out with acorn and pumpkin doughnut holes

Pumpkin cutout and other fall doughnut holes

I pulled my deep fryer from its box in the pantry and began heating the oil. As this was happening, my friend Jennifer arrived to help eat doughnuts. She brought along her son and husband too! Yay for doughnut eaters! Another friend of mine had to work a 30 hour shift but really wanted doughnuts so I had plans to bring some by to her at her work for a boost of doughnut happiness. Anywho, it was time to cook them! Using the tongs, I slid 2 doughnuts into the deep fryer at a time. Uh oh. Alton Brown cooked 4 at a time. Does anyone out there spot a time delay? Fortunately, they only took a minute or two to cook a round. After a few rounds, Jennifer felt confident enough to remove doughnuts. Then she got confident enough to add and remove. This gave me time to make a powdered sugar glaze, chocolate topping and whipped cream filling!

Powdered Sugar Glaze

1/4 c. water
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat the water and vanilla in a small sauce pot until the mixture reaches a simmer. Whisk in the powdered sugar until it is completely dissolved forming a white or clear sauce (depending on the temperature of the water before adding the powdered sugar).

Chocolate glaze/topping

1/4 c. semi sweet chocolate chips
1 Tbsp butter

Heat both together for one minute at a time in a microwave. Stir after 1 minute. Repeat until mixture is smooth. This shouldn't take more than 3, one minute cycles.

Whipped Cream Filling

1 c. whipped cream
half a cup of powdered sugar

Beat the cream only until you get soft peaks. Add the sugar slowly and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat! Stop when you get stiff peaks or the mixture will separate and form butter.


With these made, it was time for assembly! As the hot doughnuts were coming out of the oil, they were removed with tongs and placed on a cookie sheet. Then I picked the doughnuts up with tongs and inserted them in the glaze. I rolled them over in the glaze to coat the surface. Once covered, I removed the doughnut with tongs and set it back on the cookie sheet. This glazing process was repeated with all the doughnuts and doughnut holes.

Doughnut with the acorn cutout inside

We added chocolate glaze to the top of some of the holed doughnuts and all of the solid doughnuts. This was a matter of warming the glaze and stirring it. We warmed the glaze until it was smooth and then either poured or spooned and smooth the glaze on top of the doughnuts. Some of the doughnut holes were simply dipped in the glaze. Since the doughnut holes were immediately consumed, there aren't photos of them. They were the perfect size for a two year old (and tempting for those greater than 2 as well)!

Glazing, coating and filling

To fill the doughnuts, I used two special tools. Tool #1 was a single chopstick. That's right, just a wooden chopstick. Tool #2 was an icing piper. If you don't have one of these, a ziplock bag with an icing tip will work too. My icing piper is small (roughly 5 inches long and 1 - 1.5 inches in diameter). It has a syringe look to it, minus the markings. I filled the tube with whipped cream. Then I used the chopstick to poke a hole into the side of the doughnut. Placing the tip of the icing piper into the hole, I injected filling into the doughnut until it was full. This is something you can feel. If in doubt, keep pushing in filling until you feel pressure pushing back at you. When you feel pressure, back the tip out and keep injecting a little so that the inside has plenty of filling. Voila.


See this smile? That's a this-doughnut-is-awesome reaction!

We enjoyed the doughnuts with milk. They were best hot but still good once cooled. Like most doughnuts, they were best the first day. I refrigerated them to help them last longer and they remained enjoyable with brief microwave heating. (Don't go much over 10 s, or you will melt the whipped cream and make a horrible mess, not that I'd know of course.) I took some over to Rebecca at work and brought a few extra at her coworkers request. They seemed to be enjoyed by all who ate them. Thanks for a great challenge!

Here's the full recipe I used for the doughnut pastries courtesy of The Daring Kitchen and Alton Brown:

Yeast Doughnuts:
Preparation time:
Hands on prep time - 25 minutes
Rising time - 1.5 hours total
Cooking time - 12 minutes
Yield: 20 to 25 doughnuts & 20 to 25 doughnut holes, depending on size
Milk 1.5 cup / 360 ml
Vegetable Shortening 1/3 cup / 80 ml / 70 gm / 2.5 oz (can substitute butter, margarine or lard)
Active Dry Yeast 4.5 teaspoon (2 pkgs.) / 22.5 ml / 14 gm / ½ oz
Warm Water 1/3 cup / 80 ml (95°F to 105°F / 35°C to 41°C)
Eggs, Large, beaten 2
White Granulated Sugar ¼ cup / 60 ml / 55 gm / 2 oz
Table Salt 1.5 teaspoon / 7.5 ml / 9 gm / 1/3 oz
Nutmeg, grated 1 tsp. / 5 ml / 6 gm / ¼ oz
All Purpose Flour 4 2/3 cup / 1,120 ml / 650 gm / 23 oz + extra for dusting surface
Canola Oil DEPENDS on size of vessel you are frying in – you want THREE (3) inches of oil (can substitute any flavorless oil used for frying)
  1. Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. (Make sure the shortening is melted so that it incorporates well into the batter.)
  2. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. It should get foamy. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm.
  4. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer (if you have one), combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined.
  5. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well.
  6. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes (for me this only took about two minutes). If you do not have a dough hook/stand mixer – knead until the dough is smooth and not sticky.
  7. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  8. On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch (9 mm)thick. (Make sure the surface really is well-floured otherwise your doughnuts will stick to the counter).
  9. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch (65 mm) doughnut cutter or pastry ring or drinking glass and using a 7/8-inch (22 mm) ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.
  10. Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 °F/185°C.
  11. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side or until golden brown (my doughnuts only took about 30 seconds on each side at this temperature).
  12. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Double Take: Golden Macaroni and Cheese

I'm admittedly picky about macaroni and cheese. I've never been into the boxed versions. My mom made a good nonbaked version growing up that I still prepare sometimes. My mom also made a baked macaroni and cheese that's been a family recipe for multiple generations. Most of the family raves over it but its never been my favorite thing. I ate it and enjoyed it ok but it wouldn't be on the list for my last meal or anything. No version of mac and cheese has reheated well in my past experience. In fact, reheated macaronis are one of the few things I've struggled to eat as leftovers and often felt inclined to just pitch to the birds and squirrels. When Melanie mentioned this recipe, I grimaced. I've had her favorite mac and cheese (which was handed down through the family too). She loves it. To me, its a lot like my mom's family's version. Hers might be cheesier (which is a good thing) but they're pretty similar. However, I figured, why not try it. It could be better than I expect. It doesn't hurt to try new things. I could always make a small version (which I usually do anyway so that I don't spend all week eating the same thing).

I came home and started a half recipe of the macaronis. I had to measure the cups needed of pasta b/c most of us get macaronis in 1 lb boxes. Then I had to keep my mind on halving everything since I didn't want to rewrite the recipe. (Recipe below is the whole version of the recipe, I made mine in an 8x8 pan.) Everything came together easily and egg! I'm pretty sure I smiled when I realized it was eggless. Its not that I dislike eggs. Rather, I don't prefer to find little white clumpyness in macaronis and be reminded oh an egg bit. Heather called part way through the macaronis baking and asked about coming over to hang out. I said "sure, want to try these macaronis I'm making?" Heather said, " Uh, probably not, I really never like macaronis. Well, since you're making them and I like your food, I'll at least try a taste." I told her I made no promises since some recipes from this book haven't been prize winning but she was welcome to try them.

The macaronis came out of the oven just as Heather arrived. I scooped some up with some fresh steamed green beans. Heather got a plate and sat at the table beside me. We were both surprised to realize..hey these are pretty good. ...actually really good....I think I want some more. After we'd both had 2 servings (which would equal one serving according to USL...their servings are huge), we decided this was a definite keeper. Heather doesn't cook a ton but said she wanted the recipe.

Golden Mac and Cheese with Steamed Green Beans
Final test: The macaronis tasted good fresh...very good in fact. The secondary question did they reheat? Most macaroni recipes are kind of dry and taste odd after reheating. This tends to be part of the reason they get fed to birds and squirrels. This recipe was the exception. It was wonderful reheated. They remained cheesy, soft, and tasty. Sorry squirrels, you'll be missing out on these because they're too good toss.

Golden Macaroni and Cheese (slightly modified from The All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook)

8 oz of elbow macaroni  (approximately 1 3/4 c. measured dry macaroni noodles)
2 c. milk
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. onion salt
2 (8oz) blocks of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (4 1/2 c.) *
1 c. soft bread crumbs
1/4 c. butter, melted (I use unsalted.)

How to:

Cook macaroni according to the package instructions. Typically this involves boiling a pot of water, adding noodles and letting them cook for 10-15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place milk, flour, and onion salt in a jar. Cover tightly and shake vigorously for 1 minute.

Stir together flour mixture, 3 1/2 c. cheese, and macaroni noodles.

Pour macaroni mixture into a lightly greased 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle evely with breadcrumbs and remaining 1 c. of cheese. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

Yield: I'd call this 16 side servings, not 8 (as stated in USL). If there's only 2 people, halve the dish. If your family eats a ton of macaroni, go for the full sized pan. Remember that most people are going to want seconds of this dish and plan accordingly.

*(I modified the cheese blocks. When I shredded the cheese, I only needed the equivalent of 2 8 oz blocks rather than two 10 oz blocks per the recipe.)

Final Product, prior to might not win a beauty contest but it tastes great!


Heather and I both loved this dish and I plan to make it again...tonight for dinner with some Tuscan pork chops! (You'll have to wait til next week to hear about those though.)

Be sure to stop by Fabulously Fun Food to see what Mel and Bender thought of this dish.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Double Takes: Herbed Tomato Tart

This recipe was chosen, in part, due to the fabulous job Bon Appetit did in the summer with their Tomato Tart Tartin. (Sadly I have yet to make it but it is on my list.) I decided I could overlook my typical aversion to puff pastry and give the recipe a try. When I checked out the herb listing, I was delighted to obseve that I was growing 3 out of the 4 herbs already. I love using recipes that call for herbs I can pick by stepping into the backyard. I did have to be choosy about the tomato, as we're nearing the end of the season. The farmer's market I frequent was closed due to the fair so I chose vine ripened tomatoes that had strong tomato smells before they were cut. Given a choice, I prefer home grown or farmer's market but sometimes that's not an option and these were pretty good.

Recipe (adapted from the All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook)

1 pkg. (17.3 oz) frozen puff pastry, thawed (Sit it out of the freezer for 40 minutes. Don't shortcut with the microwave. Puff pastry is different from Phyllo.)
4 medium sized vine ripened tomatoes
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 8 oz pkg shredded mozzarella
1 4 oz pkg crumbled feta
1/4 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. finely chopped mixed herbs (I used 10-15 rosemary leaves, 6-10 basil leaves, ~20 parsley leaves, and 8-10 chives)
freshly ground pepper (It really is better than the preground version.)
1 Tbsp olive oil (I use Greek extra virgin olive oil. Pick what you like.)

How To:

Start by preheating your oven to 400 F. There are many ways to use your pastry. I'd say, use the pan size you have. If you haven't microwaved your pastry, you can unroll it by hand and lay it on a cookie sheet. Then cut sides down from the second sheet to build a second layer of puff pastry along the border of your pastry rectangle. Remaining pastry can be used to make a baby version. If you happened to microwave your pastry for 20-30 seconds, do not despair. Its no problem. Grab your handy rolling pin and dust it with a little flour. Gently roll the puff pastry to the size you want for your pan. Then roll out the second piece and slice border sections for your first sheet. You can wet the bits of dough you are using for a second layer with a little water before setting it on top if you want. This could help it stick together bettter but may not be necessary. I wet mine, just in case. I had leftover dough so Heather and I made a baby tart too. It made both of us happy.

Puff Pastry Assembled

Poke the puff pastry in the oven for about 10- 15 minutes or until it starts to puff and get a little crispy. Don't wait til its brown because you still need to bake it again. While the puff pastry bakes, slice your tomatos into 1/4" slices. Sprinkle the tomatoes with your kosher salt. Let the tomato slices sit and absorb the salt for 10-20 minutes. Use this time to prepare your herbs.

After your puff pastry has had chance to cool for 5 minutes, start loading it with your goodies. Begin by sprinkling the crust with the mozzarella, followed by the feta. Then, place your tomatoes. We spaced ours out and had some left over for the large tart. Heather piled them up on the baby tart and she was very happy with that. Finally, sprinkle your onions, cloves, herbs and black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Prepped and ready to bake!

By the time the cheese is melted, its ready to eat. This makes 4 servings.

Baby Tart

Full Sized Tart

Our Review:

My friend Heather and I gave these two thumbs up! We were pleased that 1) puff pastry was pretty easy to use 2) it tasted and smelled awesome. To describe the smell, I'd have to say it was garlic melding with rosemary and chives with the taste of freshness from parsley. It was delicious. I didn't know that (essentially a tomato pizza) could possibly taste so good

Pop over to Mel's blog to see her version of Herbed Tomato Tart!